A once in a lifetime experience

A once in a lifetime experience Students and staff from Presentation College at the Phoenix Park for the papal Mass.
Youth Space
Dan Pender reflects on the unforgettable impact of the 
papal visit


On a changeable Summer’s day in the Phoenix Park amidst a sea of memorabilia, crucifixes and ‘Lollipopes’ I got to see the Holy Father himself, Pope Francis.

Back in April when my classmates and I were asked to volunteer for the Pope’s visit I was delighted to be honoured with the opportunity to partake in a truly historic experience. In total, 40 students and ten teachers from Presentation College, Carlow made the journey up to the papal Mass in the Phoenix Park.

After a bus trip to the Phoenix Park from Carlow on Saturday morning, my classmates and I received our training along with thousands of others, before making our way back to our CEIST host school. What I expected to be a night on the cold, hard floor of a school gym turned into an enjoyable evening with my friends. The opportunity to meet with other young people from all over Ireland and make new friends was great, through quizzes and board games and this was all on the first evening!


After a quick sleep, the morning had arrived and all of us were on our way by 6am. We wandered with bleary eyes and an excitement that battled the rain, as it could do nothing to dampen our spirits.

We arrived and began helping out immediately, assisting with the preparation of the Eucharist and helping to set up the sub chapels. There was an incredible atmosphere in the tent, one of both reverence and excitement.

As we completed our set up, we had time to wander around the park and take in our surroundings. Thankfully, as if through the sheer power of people’s positivity, the rain began to clear up and the hours slipped by and before we knew it, people were arriving in droves.

Eventually, Pope Francis himself arrived to great fanfare and it felt as if the crowd were rushing towards him. When he passed by me, it was an experience quite unlike any other, people were cheering, clapping and waving their papal flags with great enthusiasm. The gentle aura that surrounded him as he passed by made you feel at ease, and he gave the impression that he was quite content, at home and enjoying himself.

When the Mass began, I finally had the chance to look out across the park. I laid my eyes upon a kaleidoscope of colour and all around me was a cacophony of sounds, as people responded to the prayers and jostled to get a better view. It was a great display of Catholic unity that such a large crowd attended the papal Mass. I was awe-struck that so many people, a number I have never seen before nor am I likely to ever see again, would turn out and brave the elements. The young, the old, the infirm, all to see one man: our Holy Father.

I was honoured to have even attended the papal Mass, but to have the opportunity to act as a Eucharistic Minister at the Mass was an unforgettable experience. The day itself is forever etched in my memory and I always recall it with great fondness.

The World Meeting of Families for me was about making new friends, creating great memories as well as having the opportunity to partake in a once-in-a-lifetime experience.

Georgina Maher, teacher at Presentation College:

The fact that students put themselves forward to volunteer for this amazing life event gives me great hope and pride in young people today. They are willing to give their time and to help others to take pride in their own faith and values and to be confident in their own skin.

As a Religious Education teacher, I encourage my students to engage in charity work, community and parish volunteering. I have been humbled over the years with the pride that young people have in their own faith, traditions, morals and values. It is wonderful that our young generation are sure of what is important to them, and are not afraid of who they want to be.

The World Meeting of Families was an amazing opportunity for us all to feel connected and to be part of a community. It had a huge positive impact on both teachers, staff and students involved. Friendships and everlasting memories were made during this experience.

It has created many opportunities for our students and ignited the flame for their love of helping and caring for others, so much so that some of the students have now registered to volunteer in Lourdes with their parish and diocese in the summer of 2019. This also speaks volumes about their own characters and selflessness during their summer holidays.

I am immensely proud of our school, both students and staff, in their commitment and involvement in the World Meeting of Families 2018, and no doubt we will relive the stories and memories in the future again.